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April 17, 1989 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-04-17

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Monday, April 17, 1989

Page 9

Production

of

Dragons not

fiery

en

BY MARK SHAIMAN
IT'S "Late Afternoon - In the
Middle Ages." Lancelot, our hero,
wanders into a small village and
meets a large cat that tells him of
the town's woes: the town dragon
takes away one girl a year as
payment for his services (specific-
ally, making sure a worse dragon
doesn't wreak havoc on the town),
and tomorrow he is coming to take
away the cat's master, Elsa.
It's a cute idea, but entirely
predictable. The only things that
could have saved Dragons are
some fine performances, which
there were, and a strong subtext,
which also existed, but unfortunate-
ly came across as subtly as a drag-
on's roar.
This musical is a project of
Sheldon Harnick, who is best
known for writing the eternal lyrics
to Fiddler on the Roof. In Drag-
ons, he has written not only the
lyrics, but the music and book as
well, and while each of the three
parts have their merits, none of
them are strong enough to carry the
work, nor is the combination.
The theme of the play is the
dragon in all of us - how easily
power corrupts. The refrain to the
opening number states "Thank the
Lord there are no dragons left
today," which is obviously paradox-

ough
ical since the audience knows that
they are about to encounter some in
the following acts, and have
probably met some in their own
lives. Point well-made and well-
taken, but beaten into us through-
out the rest of the play.
After Lancelot kills the dragon
in the beginning of the second act
and then disappears, the mayor of
the town takes over, going from a
meek individual to a psuedo-dragon
himself. Lancelot returns to save
the day, falls into the same power-
hungry trap as the mayor, and
resigns his minute-old position as
the new mayor. So the town decides
to form a democracy and starts to
spontaneously produce lines from
our country's historic documents
turning the performance into more
of a reenactment of the First Con-
stitutional Congress than a music-
al.
As for the music, there's enough
of it to consider the work a music-
al, but nothing very memorable or
that one would walk out of the
theater humming. Much of it foll-
ows the same strain of classic
Broadway tunes, but that's a little
passe now. One number, a comical
piece performed by the mayor called
"I Love Power," stands above the
rest, and owes its success as much
to the song as to Christopher
Murray, who played the mayor.
With lines like "They say that

Although Giles Chiasson as Henry (left), and Christopher Murray as the Mayor (right) turned in excellent performances, they couldn't save
Dragons from a script and score that lacked originality.

power corrupts/ But if a man is
rotten to begin with, what harm can
it do," and a performance remini-
scent of Zero Mostel at his zaniest,
this was the highpoint of the show.
Most of the other performances
deserve credos, too. Our friend the
cat, Elizabeth Richmond, is terrific-
ally playful and melodic. The only
detraction to her character is that her
costume looks like it is straight
from the Broadway smash Cats.
The cat's other cohabitant is
Elsa's father, Charlemagne, who

also suffers from a bit of strange
costuming. He wears a cap that is
closely cropped to his head and it is
not discernable as to whether this is
a hat or a device meant to make
him look bald. Either way, Drew
Frady brings life to to a character
who is probably the world's first
statistician.
The two lead roles of Lancelot
and Elsa are both played with
warmth and charm, by Ian Knauer
and Rebecca Daniels respectively.
While they both have fine voices,

they just aren't given material
strong enough to match their
talents. And Gilles Chiasson as
Henry, the mayor's son and former
fiance of Elsa, adds a comic touch
that makes the comedy more touch-
ing.
The dragon, which has the abil-
ity to. take three human forms, is
played by Kipp Koenig, and he is
gifted with the ability to create a
different personality for each. He is
only upstaged by the wonderful
Dragon's heads that appear on stage
after being severed from their joint

body. They are so unique and
engaging that when they were first
revealed, they garnered a round of
applause. The other stage decora-
tions are nearly as good, capturing
the medieval setting, complete with
castles in the background.
As a production, Dragons -
produced by the Musical Theater
Program under the three-headed
authority of director Brent Wagner,
choreographer Tim Millet, and
musical director Jerry Depuit -
was a success. But as a musical, it
simply ran out of steam.

Marguerite Duras' India Song hot

Earn

over

BY GUS TESCHKE
THE back cover of Marguerite Duras' novel
The Lover describes her as "one of the most
important literary figures in France." Publishers
will write anything to sell books, but in this
case I'm sympathetic to the claim. She wrote the
script for Hiroshima Mon Amour, a stunning
film that regularly returns to Ann Arbor, and The
Lover too is a fine work, economical and
emotionally intense. So I jumped at the chance
to review the Performance Network's production
of India Song, her 1972 play.
Duras is very specific about how her play is
to be treated. In general remarks for the play, she
states "As far as I know, no 'India Song' (the
I song) yet exists. When it has been written, the
author will make it available and it should be
used for all performances of India Song in France
and elsewhere." She provides a summary that "is
the only one which should accompany
productions of India Song":
This is the story of a love affair which takes
place in India in the thirties, in an
overpopulated city on the banks of the Ganges.
Two days in this love story are presented. It is
the season of the summer monsoon.
Four voices-faceless-speak of the story.
Tow of the voices are those of young women,
two are men's.
The voices are totally independent. They
speak among themselves, and do not know they
are being heard.
The voices have known or read of this love
story long ago. Some of them remember it
completely. And none of them has completely
forgotten it,
We never know who the voices are. But just
h by the way each of them has forgotten or

remembers, we get to know them more deeply
than through their identity.
The story is a love story immobilized in the
culmination of passion. Around it is another
story, a story of horror-famine and leprosy
mingled in the pestilential humidity of the
monsoon-which is also immobilized, in a daily
paroxysm.
Director Linda Kendall chose the
play because Duras knows the
stage's language. "There aren't that
many playwrights who are that
clear about what the elements of
theater are. Theater is palpable, it
is lights and sound and it is
immediate. Most playwrights focus
on the story," she said.
The woman, Anne-Marie Stretter, wife of a
French Ambassador to India and now dead- her
grave is in the English cemetery in Calcuta
might be said to be born of this horror. She
stands in the midst of it with a grace which
engulfs everything, in unfailing silence a grace
which is porous and dangerous, dangerous also
for some of them.
Besides the woman, in the sarne city, there
is a man, the French Vice-consul in Lahore, in
Calcutta in disgrace. It is by anger and murder
that he is connected to the horror of India.
There is a reception at the French Embassy,
in the course of which the outcast Vice consul
cries out his love to Anne Marie Stretter, as
white India looks on.

After the reception she drives along the
straight roads of the Delta to the islands in the
estuary.
Director Linda Kendall chose the play because
Duras knows the stage's language. "There aren't
that many playwrights who are that clear about
what the elements of theater are. Theater is
palpable, it is lights and sound and it is
immediate. Most playwrights focus on the
story," she said. Instead, India Song focuses on
the entire experience of theater.
Kendall said the play was a challenge to stage,
so much so that its U.S. premiere was only few
months ago. "What we do is try things that are
relatively impossible to accomplish," she said.
Since play's agent did not know if the title song
"India Song" existed, Kendall intended to
commission it. "One day we got a phone call and
this woman on the other end of the line said,
'hello my name is Francesca and I am from Paris
and I have studied Duras and I am interested in
your production of India Song and I know "India
Song" doesn't exist but I have a tape of it if
you'd like it,"' Kendall laughed. She liked it.
The play is well-suited to the Performance
Network's small stage. The observer must pay
close attention to decide which details are
important, and which are not, and this is possible
in the intimate space.
On the whole, I found production effective. In
a subdued hght, the actors moved deliberately to
communicate the detail Duras intends, creating an
atmosphere somewhat like a memory. The
theater was warm, and full of incense. The
dialogue is rthymic, hypnotic. Kendall, Johanna
Broghton (sets), William Doelle (lighting), and
Everett Armstrong (sound), and crew have
produced all the elements Duras intended. It is a
play like few others, very much in the style of
Hiroshima and The Lover. See it.

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summer
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